Patricia Olynyk's prints and installations frequently employ microscopy and biomedical imaging technologies to explore the intersections between art and the life sciences. Her work frequently calls upon viewers to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit—whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them.
Olynyk completed her undergraduate work at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Canada, and a Master of Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts in Oakland. After receiving both a Monbusho Scholarship and Tokyu Foundation Research Scholarship, she studied Japanese language and cultural history at Osaka National University of Foreign Studies and then spent three years studying Japanese contemporary art at Kyoto Seika University.
Prior to coming to Washington University in 2007, Olynyk taught at the New College of California and the Academy of Art College, both in San Francisco, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1999, she joined the art faculty at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she directed the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Program and the Roman J. Witt Visiting Faculty Program. In 2005, she became the first non-scientist appointed to Michigan's Life Sciences Institute.
Olynyk’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally at such venues as the Brooklyn Museum; the New York Hall of Science; the Museo del Corso in Rome; Galleria Grafica and the Saitama Modern Art Museum in Japan; and the American University in Cairo. In 2005 she created Sensing Terrains, an installation created for the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Her work is included in numerous private collections as well as those of Hewlett Packard, the American Council on Education and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.
Olynyk has received numerous project, research, exhibition and travel grants, including the 2002 North American Print Biennial’s Digital Print Award; the 2005-06 Wood Fellowship from the Francis C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; and the 2005 Sound and Vision Artist Residency and Financial Award from the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta.
She has organized several exhibitions and public art performances, including Printed Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (2006) and Mexotica: A Living Museum of Fetishized Others at the University of Michigan (2003). She also served as production manager for The Roof is on Fire, a large-scale public art performance directed by Suzanne Lacy and held in the Federal Building Parking Garage in Oakland.
Through my work, I investigate the often-tenuous relationships between human culture, science and the environment. My installations frequently call upon viewers to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit-whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them.
In my latest series, Probe, I utilize a vast inventory of prosthetic devices and medical instruments collected for their historical value in order to comment on the human desire to fetishize and even anthropomorphize objects used to supplement or probe the human body. My photographs draw together both the historical and modern desire to control and manipulate our corporeal selves.
In the series Sensing Terrains, an installation I created for the rotunda at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., I juxtapose scanning electron micrographs of sensory organs with photographs of Japanese gardens designed to "tickle the senses." Specimens range from human corneas (representing sight) and wild mouse taste buds and olfactory epithelia (representing taste and smell) to guinea pig cochlea (representing sound) and drosophila feet (representing touch). Freed from the confines of scale and context, sensory organs and garden details become hybrid landscapes where viewers can travel through tastebuds and cellular material into a scramble of roots, reminiscent of complex vascular systems.
In the center of the Academy installation, suspended above the viewer, a large petal-like construction of printed images on Chinese silk hangs like a diaphanous, floating sea anemone. The sensory experience is intensified by an interactive and evocative soundscape. Triggered at various locations throughout the installation, sounds drawn from recordings I made during two research related trips to Japan evoke blood coursing through the body, a heartbeat, and the trancelike hum of Buddhist chants.
Four renowned illustrators have donated artworks to the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, part of Washington University Libraries’ Special Collections, in honor of celebrated alumnus and illustrator Jack Unruh, who died last year.